Louise Erdrich | Critical Review by Peter Stitt

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Louise Erdrich.
This section contains 443 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Peter Stitt

Critical Review by Peter Stitt

SOURCE: Review of Jacklight, in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4, Winter 1984, pp. 863-64.

In the following excerpt, Stitt examines the mythic patterns explored in Jacklight.

In Jacklight, her first book, Louise Erdrich arrives at an understanding of the modern world by discovering patterns within the experience she studies—mythic patterns derived from her own Native American background. The poems are narrative in structure, benefiting from a strong sense of both place and character. The poem "Train," for example, expresses the sense of self which determines the speaker's progress through the world:

     Tunnels that the body strikes open in air.
     Bridges that shiver across
     every water I come to.
     And always the light
     I was born with, driving everything before it.

The basic metaphor is technological, of course, and explained by the poem's title. But the underlying definition of self, the idea that calls up the metaphor in the first place, is the same notion that determines the plot of Ruth Bebe Hill's novel Hanta-Yo.

Mythic narrative, character, and setting—the building blocks of much good fiction—are of course not enough for the making of good poetry. At her best, Louise Erdrich combines these with an exciting sense of language to produce poems like "Rugaroo"—probably the best in the book. It opens with this arresting character sketch:

     He was the man who drank Vitalis
     and sat up all night
     with the mud puppies in the woodwork,
     with the lights on in every room,
     with the television, with the tap running,
     with the fan blowing, with the icebox
     sagged open, with the secondhand vacuum cleaner
     sucking air.
     All night you could hear him in the woods
     coughing feathers.
     Next morning he sat across from you pouring syrup
     down his jacket.
     His feet were the burnt stubs of brooms.

The images are pointed, striking, revealing both of personality and plot. The poem ends mythically, with this character being absorbed at his death into the surrounding environment. Thus the "you" of the poem, the sensibility most at issue here, will never be able to escape him:

     He was the man who couldn't sleep.
     He went down into the cellar
     And ate raw potatoes.
     He blew up with gas.
     And now he is the green light floating over the slough.
     He is the one in the cattails at the edge of your dream.
     He is the man who will not let you sleep.

In its liveliness, its way of investing the ordinary world with the magic of received mythology, the poem is typical of many in the book. Unfortunately, one whole section of the volume is given over to a sequence called "The Butcher's Wife," poems which are as literal in their declarations and imagery as they are prosaic in style. Except for this lapse, however, Jacklight is a striking and entertaining first book.

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This section contains 443 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Peter Stitt
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